In the build-up to the 2022 World Cup, we’re taking a deep dive into the players and teams that are about to hit the international stage. Today we’re focusing on the French National team, and one player who could be key to Le Bleus’ chances of retaining their World title.
Didier Deschamps is blessed with attacking options heading into this World Cup. Ballon D’or winner Karim Benzema, PSG forward Kylian Mbappe, and versatile RB Leipzig midfielder Cristopher Nkunku are three of the best forward options in the world – but we’re not here to talk about them today.
There is yet another forward who has been called up for the French National Team, one that can offer something different from the other attacking options. At 36 years, Olivier Giroud is still proving that he is one of the best strikers in the World – as he continues to put in performance after performance for AC Milan. Giroud is a player who has been criminally underrated over his career, being hounded by fans and pundits for not scoring enough goals. The reality is, Giroud has consistently proven to be not only an excellent finisher of the ball but also one of the best number nines in World football.
If you asked most people to pick their French starting XI, the likelihood is they would have Benzema and Mbappe partnered in a front two or alongside Ousmane Dembele in a front-three. We won’t be comparing the abilities of Giroud to the likes of Benzema and Mbappe, because – and I mean this with no disrespect to Giroud – he currently isn’t playing at the same level as his compatriots. However, when discussing what they all bring to the French national team, there is definitely a conversation to be had – but why is Giroud so important to this French side?
The answer is very simple. His role in the team gets the best out of the players around him. Giroud is near enough always used as a target man when playing for France, He lines up alongside Kylian Mbappe in a front-two, and provides and outlet for his side to move the ball forward quickly. The idea is that Giroud, who is stronger and more aerially dominant than Benzema or Mbappe, can get on the end of any forward balls, hold-up play, and allow his team mates to get into space, something that he does brilliantly.
If you look back at France’s win over Austria in the Nations League, you can see just why Deschamps’ praises Giroud’s hold-up play as much as he does. Giroud was able to control an overhit pass with his chest, before playing a quick one-two with Mbappe allowing the youngster to get through on goal. This wasn’t just the first instance either.
The current France squad is thread-bare in midfield. They still possess a lot of quality, with Nkunku, Veretout, Rabiot, Guendouzi, Tchouameni, Fofana, and Camavinga all excellent midfield options – but none have ever played in a World Cup. In fact, only Rabiot has any experience in an international tournament, shoehorned in as a left-wingback as France cashed out of Euro 2020 against Switzerland. The lack of experienced midfield options is going to leave some disparity in this France side, potentially having to resort to long-passes and bypassing the midfield to get on the front foot. If this is the case, then there is no one Deschamps would rather have up-front than Giroud. The forward will be the focal point in this France attack receiving the majority of forward passes with his back to goal, allowing him to play with someone like Dembele or Mbappe who can unleash their individual brilliance.
Individual brilliance is something France rely-on far too much in their international fixtures. What do we mean by this? Well simply, France are over-reliant on someone doing something spectacular to create an opportunity. It could be Mbappe taking on two or three players, Tchouameni attempting a bicycle kick, or Pavard smashing one home from outside the box – either way unconventional efforts is how this France side succeeds. If you’re wondering “well, what does this have to do with Giroud? Allow me to explain.
As mentioned before, Giroud’s ability to hold-up play and easily gain control of possession allows others around him to get into forward positions and create chances. Once again, against Austria, Giroud was in position to latch onto a wayward pass and counter downfield. He instantly played in Mbappe who danced around defenders before powering the ball into the back of the net. Exactly what you need from a selfless number nine. The way Giroud dictates tempo and controls attacking momentum gives him the tools to aid those around him. In the same game, Mbappe was charging forward with the ball, a smart run from Giroud pulled away two defenders giving space for Griezmann to receive a pass and get a shot off. It’s not just his hold-up play that makes him a top number nine, but also his work rate off the ball and his awareness to pull defenders away to create space for this around him, his overall style of play allows those around him to display their individual brilliance.
Deschamps will have some headaches in the build up-to the World Cup deciding who will be the starting forwards for the national team. Looking at recent fixtures, Deschamps likes to set his side up in a 3-4-1-2 and usually goes for Mbappe and Giroud in that front two – but he could still yet opt for Benzema. So, who starts? Mbappe is the first name on the team sheet for France. If you didn’t already know. His ability to create something out of nothing and the overall threat he offers makes him one of the most dangerous players on the planet. If Deschamps was to partner him with Benzema then he would have the best striker partnership in the World, but they don’t complement each other at all.
Being two of the best forwards in the World, Mbappe and Benzema are both excellent goal scorers but neither creates opportunities for those around them, at least not for the national team. For Real Madrid, Benzema was excellent creatively, he would back-heel the ball to free up teammates, play passes from deep to free up Vinicius Jr, you name it. But for France is a different story. Benzema plays higher up than he does at club level, he only really picks the ball up in and around the box with the aim of taking a shot, not setting up teammates, unlike Giroud.
If there was a way for Deschamps to fit all three of his star strikers into his line-up then he needs to explore it, but the reality is one has to miss out. Given recent line-ups, and the praise he has received from the French boss, Giroud seems very likely to be included in most of France’s starting 11s in Qatar. He could be key in overcoming the inexperienced midfield but also could get the most out of Mbappe, who will look for another excellent international tournament. Benzema is also nursing an injury which could see minutes limited early in the group stages – giving Giroud even more time to show his value to the rest of the world.
He’s been one of the World’s most underrated players for the last decade, whether that be at; Arsenal, Chelsea, AC Milan or for Le Bleus. At 36-years-old, he’s still struggling to get the recognition he deserves to achieve an elite reputation and this could be his last chance to do it. His unique skillset isn’t unknown to a manager who has full faith in the Rossoneri forward. France need to overcome the reigning champion voo-doo if they want to advance past the group stage, just one of the hurdles they need to get past if they want to retain their World Champions status. If Le Blues are to make it far in the tournament, then make sure to keep your eye on Giroud. He’s what makes Deschamp’s side tick. The 36-year-old is aging like a fine wine, enjoying one of the best seasons of his career – all in time for what will be his final World Cup, where he will continue to prove the doubters wrong.